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Russi: The man of steel created golf culture in Jamshedpur

Monday, 19 May 2014 - 7:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

You'd probably expect me to write about Modi. And I am. But it's just a different one. The man of steel who loved to play with 'titanium' and got his shots in the middle of the fairway. Rustomji Homusji Mody or Russi Mody was a legend for many reasons. And among them his steely resolve to play golf as long as he could, though he did give it up due to old age somewhere around 86.

Mody joined Tata Steel in 1939 and since remains the most charismatic and popular chairman yet of the company. He served it for over 50 years and there was a saying that he knew every one of his employees, which may have been around 90000 then. His man manager skills were so good that he was known to hire people in the most unusual places for the times. A few such employees were selected on golf courses.

One of Tata's communications hires happened when a gentleman was introduced to Mody at the Patna golf course during a tournament. Few weeks down he had landed the job. Mody's love for the sport also ensured that the group took it under its wings and created a golf culture of sorts. "He created the Golf culture in Jamshedpur," recalls Firdose Vandrevala, earlier with Tatas now Vice Chairman of Essar Steel. "That is why even till today, the annual Steel City Golf Tournament is held at the weekend closest to January 17, which is his birthday. Steel City Golf Weekend is not just a great weekend for Golfers in India but for many citizens of Jamshedpur because of the high level of entertainment and food served to match his passion for food and living life king size." It was often said of Mody that he could enjoy a cutting chai and expensive fine wine with equal enthusiasm and fervor and that made him popular with people across wealth-lines.

What threw Mody into limelight was not just how successful he was within the Tata Steel engineers circuit but his infamous disagreements with Ratan Tata, which eventually led his ouster in 1993 at the peak of liberalisation of the Indian economy. A boardroom tussle with Tatas meant Mody had peculiar challenges to deal with. Not at work, but those that interfered with his leisure. One of them was getting membership into clubs. Business Maharajas by Gita Piramal cites grapevine that Kolkata-based industrialist Brij Mohan Khaitan who then chaired the Royal Calcutta Turf Club 'blackballed Russi Mody' initially from joining the club on the request of Tata top management.

Horse races were all right but the rat race was not. And he never confused hard work with ambition. He preferred consistency. "He even won a friendly golf tournament by using just one club through all 18 holes... The putter!" recalls Vandrevala. "His strategy: consistency pays." As someone who had met and got taken in by Mody's personality Vandrevala remembers how he won over young and new joinees. "His pact with new joinees: there are 24 hours in a day, 8 hours is with you and nature. Rest your body and sleep well. You can overeat, drink (whatever!) but rest your body is a must. The balance 16 hours was split between him and us. 8 hours we must work with full passion and commitment and balance 8 hours he'll make sure we have fun and enjoy."

I haven't met Mody but in my journalism career, which started out by covering steel (pellets, hot rolled coils and the works), I was regaled with legendary stories of Mody and they went a long way in making covering steel a far more interesting prospect. I would come back to read and hear about him as my interest in corporate golf grew. As he passed away over the weekend, doubt there is anyone who remembers him 96 years old, only 96 years too young.

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